By RYAN TAYLOR
Isles MSP Tavish Scott has distanced himself from national media claims that he has been milking the expenses system at Holyrood.
The Scottish Liberal Democrat leader said he had fallen prey to a “straight smear” from a Sunday newspaper which claimed he had refused to state whether he paid capital gains tax on a flat he sold in Edinburgh in 2005.
The row over Mr Scott’s second home follows the scandal which has erupted over expenses among Westminster MPs, culminating in the resignation this week of House of Commons speaker Michael Martin.
Newspaper reports over the weekend said Mr Scott had failed to give an answer to journalists when asked if he paid the tax man after selling an Edinburgh flat in 2005 at an alleged £36,000 profit.
Speaking to The Shetland Times this week, Mr Scott denied he had tried to dodge the issue, and said the whole expenses system at Holyrood was completely open and transparent, especially following an independent review.
“I gave a straight answer to that question, which is that I pay all the taxes I am due,” he said.
“I don’t ask anyone else to go through the details of their private life. I think that’s a gross invasion of privacy, because where would it stop?
“If I start going through all the details of my tax affairs, frankly I think the whole of my life would be open to scrutiny.
“I’m not prepared to cross that boundary. I’ve got children, I’ve got my family, I’ve got my own affairs which I think are for me to deal with and no-one else.”
He added the electorate had an “absolute right” to see his salary, and to see his allowances which he claims as part of his job. “But I think I am allowed as a citizen to say that my own tax affairs are for me,” he added. “I can give you a categoric assurance I pay all the tax I am due, which is plenty.”
Under the current system of rules concerning MSPs’ expenses, Mr Scott claims for the mortgage interest he is charged on his second home in the capital.
However, that process is due to come to a halt in 2011, at which point he said he would have either to live in a hotel or rent a property.
He refused to be drawn into whether the 2011 deadline could lead to a number of MSPs selling up their second properties in order to gain the perk before it becomes obsolete, adding that would be a matter for MSPs’ individual consciences.
“If I live in a hotel it will cost the parliament more, but that is the decision parliament has made.”
Mr Scott said he understood “public concern” about the Westminster stories, but insisted there was nobody claiming for cleaning moats at Holyrood.
“I get nothing for furniture, which they did at Westminster, I get nothing for living expenses. None of my costs are covered for living in Edinburgh. The only thing I claim an allowance on is mortgage interest – that’s all I am eligible to claim. You can see it on the website. It’s all there.
“I do think it’s quite unfair if journalists try to lump us all in with Westminster. Our system is very different from that. It’s not fair to say that we have a second home paid for by the taxpayer. We don’t.”
According to the Scottish Parliament website Mr Scott claims £991 a month on mortgage interest payments.
In total he claimed £27,000 during the last financial year, although a large proportion of that covered travelling expenses to and from Edinburgh.
“Personally I absolutely understand public concerns about the Westminster scandals that have erupted, particularly in The Daily Telegraph but thereafter in every newspaper and broadcaster in the last fortnight.
“I don’t think that’s going to go away until they [Westminster MPs] publish all their details.
“They need to do what we did in Edinburgh, and have done in Edinburgh for some years now, which is publish on a three-monthly basis all our allowances so that any member of the public, any journalist, anyone who is interested can peruse those details. That’s what it should be, it’s public money, so it should be open and accessible.
“I have no difficulty in observing that the regime in Scotland is utterly transparent. David Cameron, Nick Clegg, Alex Salmond, are all saying the Westminster system should copy what’s in Scotland, so I think it’s robust.”
Meanwhile, Orkney and Shetland MP Alistair Carmichael confirmed press reports which listed him among a number of Scottish MPs who claimed the maximum second homes allowance – at just over £23,000.
“That’s because from one allowance I have to fund second homes in both London and Shetland, because my main home is in Orkney,” he said.
“We are normally in a position to claim a second homes allowance in London, which is what I do, but I have a special dispensation with the fees office to claim my rent in Shetland, which is not in the rules.
“It means the opportunity for me not to claim the maximum allowance is rather minimum.”